If Twitter seems to you like a cesspool of falsity, you’re obviously not alone. And now you’ve got science to back confirm that view. Research shows that the amount of fakery on the social media site is stunning, even when the Russian and other bots are sorted out. Not just the amount, however. Science published a study by MIT researchers Thursday that found false news spreads faster on Twitter than real news does. And the gap is gigantic.

If there’s a single message from this, it’s that you want to avoid getting snookered by somebody’s propaganda, be sure to keep your brain switched on and never just accept what you’re reading. Question it all and collect input from more than one source.

The three scientists who completed the MIT study—“The Spread of True and False News”—determined that a false story takes an average of 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users while it takes a true story 60 hours to do the same. They found that true stories almost never get retweeted to 1,000 people, while the top 1 percent of false stories reach as many as 100,000 people.

The scientists reviewed some 126,000 stories tweeted by approximately 3 million people more than 4.5 million times. They classified news as true or false based on information from six independent fact-checking organizations that found 95-98 percent agreement on the classifications. Those organizations were snopes.com, politifact.com, factcheck.org, truthorfiction.com, hoax-slayer.com and urbanlegends.about.com. Obvious bots were removed from consideration.

“We found that falsehood defuses significantly farther, faster, deeper, and more broadly than the truth, in all categories of information, and in many cases by an order of magnitude,” says Sinan Aral, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings.

“These findings shed new light on fundamental aspects of our online communication ecosystem,” says Deb Roy, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab and director of the Media Lab’s Laboratory for Social Machines (LSM), who is also a co-author of the study. Roy adds that the researchers were “somewhere between surprised and stunned” at the different trajectories of true and false news on Twitter.

Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist who was the lead author of the study, said the false stories that traveled farthest and fastest were about a Muslim guard called a hero in the Paris bombings of 2015, an Iraq war veteran finishing as runner-up to Caitlyn Jenner for an ESPN courage award, and a “The Simpsons” episode with a story line in 2000 about a Trump presidency. 

University of Pennsylvania communications professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a co-founder of factcheck.org, had problems with the way the study looked at true and false stories. The MIT team characterized a story’s truth on a 1-to-5 scale, with 1 being completely false. Factcheck.org, Jamieson said, looks more at context and does not label something either true or false.

She also suggested that calling this bogus information “false stories” does not capture how malignant it is. She said it would “better be called viral deception. VD. And treated as analogous to venereal disease.”

TOP COMMENTSHIGH IMPACT STORIES

QUOTATION

“There is one forecast of which you can already be sure: someday renewable energy will be the only way for people to satisfy their energy needs. Because of the physical, ecological and (therefore) social limits to nuclear and fossil energy use, ultimately nobody will be able to circumvent renewable energy as the solution, even if it turns out to be everybody’s last remaining choice. The question keeping everyone in suspense, however, is whether we shall succeed in making this radical change of energy platforms happen early enough to spare the world irreversible ecological mutilation and political and economic catastrophe.”
          ~Herman Scheer Energy Autonomy: The Economic, Social and Technological Case for Renewable Energy (2005)
 

TWEET OF THE DAY

BLAST FROM THE PAST

On this date at Daily Kos in 2007—A Pardon for Libby:

It’s only been two days since Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, and already there is a rising chorus from White House apologists for George Bush to pardon Scooter Libby.

From the right came a Wednesday editorial in The Wall Street Journal, which thundered that “the time for a pardon is now,” a point of view shared by The Weekly Standard, National Review and conservative admirers and friends of Mr. Libby. Many of the calls for his pardon demanded immediate action, instead of a wait for appeals to wend their way through the courts.

But setting aside, for now, the blatant hypocrisy of these former defenders of “the rule of law,” have any of them considered the implications of George Bush offering, and Scooter Libby accepting, a Presidential pardon?

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Florida manages to produce a gun law. That Seychelles meeting is back. Greg Dworkin leads off, then Armando gives you permission to talk about Stormy Daniels! Arliss Bunny previews a special joint Hopping MadIrreverent Testimony podcast on trade and tariffs! 

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